Redevelopment progress slow at former Danskin factory

Jason Addy

A York City school board member is slamming remediation efforts at a partially demolished former clothing factory next door to an elementary school, but city officials say they are doing everything they can to fix the blighted property.

Though air and soil quality tests conducted in March by the York City School District found no toxic hazards at the Alexander D. Goode School next to the former Danskin property on North State Street, school board member David Moser said the site still represents a significant environmental, health and economic concern for students and city residents.

The former Danskin factory on State Street in York City, Thursday, June 8, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

“This is anything but a secure location at this point,” Moser said while walking the perimeter of the Danskin property Tuesday.

Piles of rubble and debris from the partial demolition of the factory have sat on the property for years, turning it into a dump site for trespassers and the like.

Moser called the property “disgusting” and “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and he clarified he was speaking as a concerned resident and not for the entire school board.

The York City Redevelopment Authority (RDA) purchased the former Danskin clothing manufacturing plant in 2015 to address the property's potential hazards to public safety, York City Mayor Kim Bracey said last week.

With no investors stepping in to purchase the property and the former owners AWOL, “the city was left with the responsibility of addressing, possibly, a public safety hazard and making sure our residents and constituents are safe and no one was harmed,” Bracey said of the city’s role in the property’s rehabilitation.

“We got involved because of a shoddy job that was done” with the building's demolition, Bracey said.

Moser said he believes the city should never have purchased the property. Officials should be pursuing litigation against the company that owned the building at the time of the demolition and the company that did the initial demolition work, he added.

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“I’m against the idea of the city even sitting on this. We should not have picked this up. We should be going after the people responsible for this,” Moser said.

The former owners “paid a company $100,000 to demolish this location,” he said. “From what I understand, as soon as they hit the 100,000th dollar, they stopped, packed up, went home.”

Shilvosky Buffaloe, acting director of the city's community and economic development department that oversees the RDA, said city officials spoke with the former owner before "the RDA purchased the property as is, recognizing that we would be the persons to bring the corrective actions there."

The RDA is not pursuing lawsuits against the former owner and the company that did the initial demolition work, and the city wouldn't pursue those lawsuits either, Buffaloe said.

"Suing is not helping anybody," Buffaloe said, adding that a lawsuit would not fix the problems at the site.

Toxic concerns: Moser also criticized the initial demolition work, saying there was no preparation work and no environmental requirements in place to protect nearby residents and students from potentially toxic materials used in the construction of the building.

“I’m not a betting man, and I’ll put money on the fact that there’s asbestos in there,” he said.

In a statement last week, York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes said the district received an anonymous tip in mid-February about a potential contamination problem at the Danskin property, which prompted him to immediately contact York City Hall.

On Feb. 23, Bracey and her staff provided the district with detailed information about the property and the city’s efforts to improve the site, Holmes said.

During that meeting, city officials spoke of potential safety problems, including hazardous materials found on the property that weren’t removed during the initial demolition, and they said the city would be testing the air and soil for other contaminants, Holmes said.

Bracey and city officials then shared that information with the York City school board at its March 6 meeting, Holmes said.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the York City School District conducted its own air and soil tests for potential contaminants on March 3, and the tests were negative, Holmes said in the statement.

On March 28, EHS Environmental Inc. conducted a Phase 1 environmental site assessment of the site, which found "no evidence of current or past air emissions from the property," according to the company's 58-page report.

However, the company's report also states that there are about 40,000 pounds of building debris and materials that likely contain asbestos at the site. The company also found evidence of ground contamination near the northern border of the property, and the report recommends soil-vapor and groundwater investigations along the northern and southern borders of the property.

During the environmental site assessment, investigators looked for areas of concern where city officials should focus their remediation efforts, and more-investigative testing and sampling, such as conducting air, water and soil quality tests, will be completed in Phase 2, Buffaloe said. The city has filed an application with the state requesting funds to underwrite the costs of Phase 2, and remediation efforts will be implemented during Phase 3, Buffaloe said.

Short-term fixes: Since then, RDA-hired contractors have installed gated fencing around the entire property to deter further trespassing and dumping, Buffaloe said.

Contractors also installed a 500-foot silt sock along the western edge of the property to control water runoff at the site, while hazmat removal contractors conducted tests on and removed several drums of potentially hazardous material left behind by the clothing manufacturer, he said.

Though the property is surrounded by fencing, sections of the fence are leaning at 45-degree angles and buckling under the weight of debris, while one section along the property boundary with the Goode school has a 3-feet-tall hole.

The silt sock installed in April has numerous holes in its lining, and a section of it is sitting in a horseshoe-shape away from the fence, leaving a gap nearly 10 feet wide.

“The silt sock, at best, was a temporary Band-Aid,” Moser said, pointing to the holes and misplaced segment. “The work wasn’t even completed on a temporary measure three months ago.”

There are no toxic materials leaving the site, Buffaloe said, noting staff at the local office of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection visited the site and ran several tests that found “nothing actually detrimental was moving off the site.”

Even if there are any hazardous materials left at the site, they are inert in their current state, he claimed.

Future prospects: The RDA is now working to find contractors to finish the building’s demolition and prepare the site for future redevelopment, Buffaloe said.

In order to fund the RDA’s work, the city is seeking grants from the state government through its Industrial Sites Reuse Program and Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, while also trying to obtain federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

The RDA recently entered into a redevelopment agreement with Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties, which plans to construct an affordable housing complex with 56 units, Buffaloe said.

At the time of the RDA’s purchase, city officials said only about 30 percent of the factory was actually demolished.

The previous owners should have taken health and safety precautionary measures during the initial demolition, including trapping water runoff from the site, Buffaloe said.

Officials found couches, mattresses and even full living-room sets when they visited the site two years ago, he said, voicing his disappointment that no one notified the city of the extensive and “random dumping” taking place.

“The school district and the city have kept in constant communication throughout this process,” Holmes said in his statement. “The city has addressed each of the safety issues raised by the school district. The school district continues to closely monitor this situation and advocate for the health and safety of our students.”

Whatever becomes of the former Danskin property, Moser said he just wants it to be used.

“I want to see it utilized. I want to see it out of the RDA’s hands,” Moser said. “I want to see it productive, back on the tax rolls.”